Search for best practices unites common state concerns

November 5, 2008
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The University of Michigan and Urban Land Institute held its 22nd annual Michigan Real Estate Forum in Grand Rapids last month, for the first time. It must be acknowledged that Grand Rapids Business Journal was a sponsor of the event, and this issue of Commercial Quarterly includes some of those highlights.

Each issue of Commercial Quarterly and the daily and weekly reporting in Grand Rapids Business Journal provide ample explanation of why forum sponsors were interested in moving the annual gathering to Grand Rapids.

Planners said they took a chance in suggesting it move to Grand Rapids for the first time in its history, but the overwhelming response to the suggestion was not only positive but one of excitement. During a September meeting of the conference organizers, ASTI Environmental’s Tom Wackerman said planners “were blown over with support.” Conference planners, some of them doing business with Grand Rapids shingles though headquartered in the Detroit area, noted that the city has revitalized itself, and they wanted to know how it was done. Wackerman also said the group was enthusiastic about introducing East-siders to the West side of the state. The Real Estate Forum provides one bridge to working together, and a domino effect that helps build the state’s economy.

It is no secret that Eastern and West Michigan have differing operating philosophies, some perceptions that may or may not be true, and some measure of disdain one for the other. Former U.S. Ambassador Peter Secchia told the Business Journal that he and other West Michigan executives had tried 15 years ago to find common ground, “because we were going through a period of lobbing hand grenades at each other.”

In a time of economic upheaval, however, all business owners look for best practices and new methods to weather the storm and grow. The Business Journal this year struck a partnership with Crain’s Detroit Business to provide such information to businesses across the state. The new, statewide business publication provides the nationally recognized award-winning reporting of both newsrooms. The new publication, offered free but online only at www.Bridging96.com, provides a bi-weekly update of news and best practices from around the state of Michigan.

As part of the UM-ULI conference, GRBJ and CDB sponsored an exchange of business leaders from east to west, and west to east. As editors had anticipated, the Detroit executives touring Grand Rapids last month knew little about the transformations in the community, or the myriad of initiatives causing so many to exclaim that Grand Rapids has become the state’s most active business region. Nor did the West Michigan executives who took the tour of Detroit know the significant number of new projects underway on streets like Woodward Avenue, downtown or Midtown.

One of the Detroit projects is that of West Michigan developer Marcel Burgler of Prime Development (see page 5). Burgler said that when he talked of his Detroit project in West Michigan his regional peers thought he was “crazy.”

Indeed.

Business owners in West Michigan have long participated in or advocated regional cooperation as a means to success for each part of the region. We will continue to report on collaborations as they broaden across the state, and also across the economic sector now referred to by Richard Florida and other economic experts as the Great Lakes Region.

— Carole Valade

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